It was Spring 2004. I was 14 years old. I spent most of my days watching anime, collecting figurines and playing games. However, that Spring would mark quite a big change in my life. I was going to discover Final Fantasy.
My memory is hazy, but I can recall seeing a TV advert showing an all-female cast dressed as witches. I was a huge Sailor Moon fan and into magic around that age, so I was instantly drawn to it. Having played games since I was a toddler – always wanting to play as ‘the girl’ – a female cast was appealing. I decided to buy this game with my pocket money.
It was Final Fantasy X-2. And I loved it.
The campy, exaggerated world with such a diverse environment, the bright, fun colour palette, the fast-paced battles, upbeat soundtrack, the mix of personalities among the main cast – even the buckles in places that made no sense – I loved it all. Of course, the story made very little sense to me since I had not played Final Fantasy X, but this just served to pique my interest to check out other Final Fantasy titles. I’ll freely admit I didn’t even realise the game was a sequel when I picked it up. I thought the X-2 was just some kind of funky moniker.
It has to be said, before the days of the internet being so prevalent, there was something slightly exciting about discovering a game for yourself. I’d be lying if I pretended I wasn’t your typical edgy teen, complete with my X-2 strategy guide proudly displayed at school *facepalm*.
It’s easy to either forget or not realise how powerful it can be for young people to have characters they can relate to. Are Yuna, Rikku and Paine great role models? Probably not. But in 2004 simply having a game centred around a group of adventuring ladies who can fight, can feel, can sing, can explore, felt refreshingly different from other experiences available to me in games I had played previously. I had played titles such as Tomb Raider, but I felt no connection with the titular character, with her dark hair, large lips and confidence. That’s not to be derogatory; she simply isn’t like me. I couldn’t connect with her emotions or worldview.
To me, having a diverse cast has traditionally been an area where Final Fantasy excels. Each title I played, I found one character I could connect with in some way. In XII, I fell in love with Fran. Her stoicism, elegance and wisdom resonated with me. In X, I admired Yuna’s kindness in the face of extreme adversity. And, as it always was, characters with dark hair and a more mature personality such as Lulu and Tifa didn’t resonate with me – but they weren’t the only characters within the narrative, so it didn’t bother me in the least. Rather, this range of personalities and styles compliment each other and make for interesting interactions and points of difference between the cast.
The range of characters and their accompanying tastes, experiences, stories and emotions, is, for me, a mainstay of the series. Funnily enough, it’s one area where X-2 falls short, because there are no male protagonists. The game does not do much to engage the male perspective and feels slightly one-note as a result.
Looking back, there was a lot wrong with X-2. I’ll be the first to joke about what a ‘bad game’ it is. I’m currently re-playing it and, oh boy, it’s just as questionable in places as I remember. My point isn’t to say FFX-2 is a ‘great game’. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination. But I can’t fault Square Enix for making it and merely wave it off as being a cash-cow fanservice romp. If I hadn’t seen Yuna’s grinning face centre-stage in that 2004 advert, I would have never discovered the wonder of RPGs. It’s honestly that simple.
That’s why I can’t hate Final Fantasy X-2.